Sunday, October 20, 2013

Don Johnson Stars in Dennis Hopper's The Hot Spot

A charismatic drifter blows into a small Texas town where he begins a steamy affair with a sultry femme fatale in this entertaining potboiler.

The Hot Spot (1990) is a noir-ish thriller directed by Dennis Hopper and is based on the 1953 pulp novel Hell Hath No Fury by noted American suspense author Charles Williams. The film has a nice B-movie charm to it, and it manages to be consistently entertaining. It's a bit weak on plot and dialogue, but makes up for it with plenty of style, mood and attitude. And that's all a film like this really needs to be effective. The Hot Spot is aptly titled, as much of what goes on in the film centers around heat: the random fires, the incessant smoking, the sweltering weather and even hotter sex.

The film stars Don Johnson as a drifter named Harry Madox who lands in a small Texas town. Harry has a mysterious and slightly dangerous edge about him; it's clear he's a man with a shady past. He quickly gets a job as a used car salesman on the strength of his charismatic personality. Once Harry is in town for awhile, he starts devising a plan to knock over the local bank. He also catches the eye of a sultry seductress named Dolly Harshaw (Virginia Madsen), who's his boss's wife. At first Harry tries to resist her advances, but his resistance is futile against this determined Southern siren. At one point in the film, she coolly tells him, "I always get what I want, Harry." Before you know it, the two are engaged in a hot affair.

In the meantime, Harry begins a chaste romance with a ravishing young brunette named Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly), who's the bookkeeper at the used car dealership where he works. Gloria seems very innocent, but it's later revealed that she has something of a checkered past as well. She's being shaken down by a lowlife, no-account blackmailer named Frank Sutton (William Sadler), who has some damaging information on her. Gloria sort of serves as a foil to Dolly, as the two couldn't be more opposite. The two women represent the dichotomy of Harry's character: the decent guy with morals is embodied in Gloria, and the law-breaking bad boy in Dolly.

Don Johnson is solid in his role of Harry Madox, bringing some swagger and simmering intensity to the part. He has a cigarette in his mouth about 85 percent of the time that he's on screen. The cigarette appears to serve as a prop for Johnson in helping him inhabit Harry's character; and you have to admit that he does look pretty damn cool with a ciggy dangling out of his mouth in brooding James Dean mode. There's even a cigarette in the actor's mouth on the DVD cover.

Virginia Madsen is muy caliente as buxom femme fatale Dolly Harshaw. Madsen plays Dolly in the tradition of noir bombshells such as Veronica Lake, Jane Greer and Gene Tierney, but amped up to 10 with a near suicidal crazy streak. She effortlessly exudes smoldering sexuality in her role and practically steals every scene she's in. Her bedroom scenes with Johnson are extremely hot but not overly explicit. The two actors share such great sexual chemistry that they don't need to show a whole lot in order to make their sex scenes sizzle.

There are also some really great performances from the supporting cast, especially from William Sadler as sleazy blackmailer Frank Sutton. He plays this scumbag with such unabashed relish that it's a joy to watch. Jack Nance, a longtime regular in David Lynch's films, is also quite good as the jittery bank manager Julian Ward, and Charles Martin Smith is likable as good ol' boy used car salesman LonGulick. However, Connelly is kind of bland as Gloria. She isn't required to do much in her role, except look gorgeous and act innocent or forlorn, not much of a challenge for this talented actress.

Probably the best thing about the film is its amazing jazz-blues soundtrack. The original score to the soundtrack was by composed by producer, songwriter, arranger and film composer Jack Nitzsche and features contributions from musical titans Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker. The soundtrack also features Taj Mahal, Bradford Ellis, Tim Drummond, Earl Palmer and Roy Rogers (the blues slide guitarist, not the iconic "Singing Cowboy" film star). Much credit should be given to Hopper for assembling such an incredible lineup of talent for the film's soundtrack. This is one of those occasions where the soundtrack is more significant then the film itself.

The Hot Spot is no masterpiece by any stretch, but it's a very entertaining film. And Dennis Hopper does a great job in creating the film's steamy atmosphere. This is the perfect film to watch when you're in the mood for some tawdry B-movie fun while listening to some fantastic music.

The Hot Spot at Amazon

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